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Records of YMCA international work in Vietnam and Indochina

Identifier: Y.USA.9-2-44


Correspondence and reports (including reports from the American government reports and various nonprofits), publications in Vietnamese and English, program proposals, promotional posters, newspaper articles and financial records documenting YMCA work in Vietnam and the larger area formerly known as Indochina. The material dating from 1955 to the mid 1960s is primarily composed of correspondence and reports from the International Committee and Vietnamese YMCA leaders regarding the establishment of an association in Saigon (later renamed Ho Chi Minh City). The material dating from 1965 to 1975 is mostly dedicated to the work of YMCA Refugee Services in Vietnam, while material after 1975 concerns YMCA refugee work outside of Vietnam – particularly at the Refugee Reception Center at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The latter includes written notes taken by American councillors who interviewed newly arrived Vietnamese refugees at Elgin Air Force Base. Reports detailing the Vietnam War and the political situation in Southeast Asia can also be found within the material.

A portion of the collection also focuses on the YMCA's work in Indochina, primarily, Cambodia and Laos. The political situation between the surrounding countries and the United States due to the conflict in Vietnam is discussed throughout the correspondence and reports from Indochina. There are various documents concerning rehab work with Laotian refugees and Cambodian refugees in Thailand. The Thailand YMCA's efforts to assist Laos with the development of its own YMCA is also discussed within the collection.

YMCA assistance with relief efforts in Indochina is also documented throughout the collection through reports and correspondence. The YMCA was assisted by many outside agencies, including the Church World Service, The Red Cross, The Johnson Foundation and United Nations agencies of UNICEF (United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund) and UNDRO (United Nations Disaster Relief Organization).


  • 1955-1992


Language of Materials

English, Vietnamese

Use of Materials:

This collection is protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright, ownership, and to obtain all the necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials.


In 1955, Gerrit B. Douwsma of the YMCA International Committee began corresponding with a group of young Vietnamese men who were interested in establishing a YMCA association in Saigon. Paul M. Limbert was sent to meet with the group in 1956, and after visiting with the men, he recommended that the situation in Saigon was ripe for the establishment of a YMCA.

Despite appointing Lê-hoàng-Luong as General Secretary and establishing a board of directors, the group faced resistance from the largely Catholic government of Ngo Dinh Diem. The group was unable to obtain visas to attend YMCA events in Hong Kong and the Philippines, and the government refused to give the group formal approval to operate despite overtures made by American officials on the YMCA's behalf. Nevertheless, in 1957, the YMCAs of the Philippines assisted the group in constructing a tentative constitution.

However, the International Committee refused to send a fraternal secretary because of the lack of a clear Christian emphasis within the constitution, specifically the absence of any requirements concerning the religious affiliations of the leadership. Furthermore, the International Committee was concerned that the group was using the YMCA title without having the formal approval of the Vietnamese government. After the Catholic Church demanded the resignation of the board's only Catholic members, the group was forced to reorganize by compiling a new board of directors and adopting a new constitution in late 1957. Although the Saigon YMCA received approval from M. G. Dharmaraj – YMCA Area Secretary for South and East Asia – in 1959, the association did not receive official government approval until after the fall of Ngo Dinh Diem's government in 1963.

The fledgling YMCA in Saigon worked out of a two-story house since 1956 where they offered English classes and the use of a reading room. The YMCA also offered activities at local Protestant churches around the city. By 1965, the YMCA served 200 members, offered several elementary and kindergarten classes, and owned its own playground. Although the International Committee didn't include the association as a cooperating member, the Saigon YMCA maintained a relationship with the World Alliance of YMCAs and received modest financial support from the YMCAs of India and the Philippines. The escalating violence in Vietnam and serious disagreements among the board of directors severely hindered the growth the Saigon YMCA, and the group ended its services by late 1973.

The work in Vietnam overlapped significantly with work in the larger region known as Indochina, which included the countries of Laos and Cambodia. Laos was considered a fertile ground for further YMCA work, but it was determined to be best initiated through the assistance of the YMCA in Thailand, due to a similarity in attitude and lifestyle of the populace within the respective countries. Cambodia was regarded as possessing very little opportunity for active YMCA work within the country due to the political situation between Prince Sihanouk, the Vietnam conflict and the United States. Much work in regards to refugee relief efforts, however, was attempted.

Starting in 1964, YMCA Refugee Services operated a center in Saigon. Although the center temporarily housed the struggling Saigon Association for a time, the primary mission of the center was to provide assistance to villagers who were forced to relocate to urban areas following increased military action in the countryside. By 1973, the YMCA served three resettlement villages outside of the city by offering a range of recreational, educational and community development programs. The YMCAs of Japan sent Yukio Miyazaki to work with the center in Saigon in 1969, and an American named Ron Luce was sent in 1974. The YMCA in Indochina was also extremely active with Church World Service, The Red Cross, The United Nations, The Johnson Foundation and other organizations in relief work with Cambodian and Laotian refugees.

The YMCA was forced to end its refugee work in Vietnam prior to the fall of Saigon. Luce and other YMCA staff, along with thousands of Vietnamese refugees, were evacuated by Britain's Strategic Air Command in April 1975. The YMCA continued its work with Southeast Asian refugees at the Refugee Reception Center at Elgin Air Force Base in Florida. In addition, the YMCA was active in pushing for humanitarian aid to the people of Vietnam in the years immediately following the Vietnam War.

[Historical information was found within the records of the YMCA in Vietnam located at the Kautz Family YMCA Archives, Minneapolis, MN.]


2.1 Cubic Feet (4 boxes)


Correspondence and reports (including reports from the American government reports and various nonprofits), publications in Vietnamese and English, program proposals, promotional posters, newspaper articles and financial records documenting YMCA work in Vietnam and the larger area formerly known as Indochina, as well as with refugees from the region.

Processing Information:

Processed as part of Fast Processing Project II, April 2009, as collection FP056. Material has been minimally processed. Folder descriptions may be general and material has not been grouped into series.

Individual folder titles were listed in November 2022.

Catalog Record ID number: 6425837

An Inventory of Its Records
Finding aid prepared by Lara Friedman-Shedlov and Cody Haro.
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